Village Green Bookstore opened in 1972 in a 600-square-foot basement store at 766 Monroe Avenue in Rochester, New York, before its reputation among the community’s book lovers spread and it expanded into the larger storefront upstairs.
The store had a coffee bar before they became common in bookstores and despite starting out by selling only the local Sunday edition, would offer more than 100 newspapers and 2,400 magazines. Eventually, while books were still a staple of the business, they became lost behind their rapidly expanding merchandise line.
By 1992, Village Green had added as many as eight new stores throughout Central and Western New York, including locations at 1089 Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst and 765 Elmwood Avenue in the Elmwood Village. But the growth for the company had become troublesome. Hoping to solve their financial problems, the chain continued to expand locations and product offerings. In doing so, as tends to happen when a company forces growth in order to dominate the market, Village Green forgot their purpose and mission. The company had forgotten what one of the founders, John Borek, had said not long after opening; their intention was to cater to “people who were hungry for books.” Instead, they were selling ice cream and inflatable bagels.
Within a few years they had added stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but with a series of catastrophic financial decisions that involved lawsuits, criminal charges and SEC investigations, the company began closing “underperforming” stores, including a third location in Western New York, in the McKinley Plaza in Blasdell. The closures and merchandise sell offs could not keep the company afloat however and in 1998 they had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The following year, the flagship store on Monroe closed it doors for good, eventually becoming a Pizza Hut.
Designed when Wright was thirty-nine years old and little known outside the circles of Chicago’s elite, Browne’s Bookshop was as unique for it intent to feel very much like a home library or study as for its location on the seventh floor, and despite its short life was known as “the most beautiful bookshop in the world.”
Wright modeled the glass lamp shades from the windows he’d designed for his childrens’ rooms, and organized the store’s bookshelves around reading tables to create cozy alcoves in which to explore.
Francis Fisher Browne, the store’s owner and editor of the literary magazine The Dial, relocated the store to the building’s ground floor in 1910 but closed it for good two years later.
While the Fine Arts Building still stands at 410 S. Michigan Avenue and some of the interiors look much the same as they did a century ago, no trace of Frank Lloyd Wright remains.
Check out the original article at the Paris Review for more information, including an interesting story about why the future editor of The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, abruptly quit her position as the bookshop’s manager.
More photos of the bookshop and the book covers Wright designed for the Caxton Club can also be found at this online catalog of Wright’s work, The Wright Library.